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Parents outraged over NYC schools data sharing program

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters at a town hall on Monday about the city’s plan to share private student data with private corporations. Photo by Mary Frost

Student info already out there in cyberspace

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Parents called the Department of Education’s move to share confidential data about their kids with private corporations “outrageous,” “contemptible,” and worse at a high-drama town hall at Brooklyn Borough Hall Monday night.

The outrage level only got higher after families learned that the city had already handed their children’s personal information over to inBloom Inc., a Gates-funded corporation, which plans to share students’ information with for-profit vendors to help them market “learning products.”

“Our children have a right to privacy,” declared Monique Lindsay, a Coalition for Educational Justice leader. “Only we as parents have the right to share their information with anyone. We will do whatever it takes to stop inBloom, Bloomberg, and anyone else. How dare they think they can share our children’s information with anyone?”

Sally Sinisgalli, a Queens mom, said, “Why do they have to know my ethnicity and my child’s hair and eye color. I don’t write about or put a picture of my children on Facebook. I don’t do it, but the city can do it?”

The student data being shared include names, addresses, emails, photos, grades, test scores, learning styles, disciplinary, health and attendance records, the results of academic and psychological tests, race and ethnicity, economic and disability status and more.

According to the inBloom website, teacher and staff data is also being collected, along with incidentals such as what type of documentation parents presented to confirm a child’s identity and the nature of the student’s home environment, such as single parent or immigrant households.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of educational nonprofit Class Size Matters organized the town hall and produced a presentation. Representatives from inBloom were invited to attend, but did not show – drawing hisses from the crowd.

Reportedly, information is being collected from as far back as 1996 and is being stored on an Amazon cloud built by Wireless/Amplify, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation – a company still facing litigation for violating the privacy of individuals in Great Britain and in the United States.

Former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein heads Wireless/Amplify, which hopes to sell to hand-held digital tablets that they say will modernize the educational system. Mr. Klein told the New York Times that he expects the Amplify tablets to eventually contribute 40 percent of the division’s revenue.

“This is thoroughly disgusting,” said Natasha Capers, a representative of the Alliance for a Quality Education and a District 23 parent. “It’s no one’s business how many absences my child has and my contact information. I just got an email from Amazon saying my security was breached. Was anyone around last week when Twitter was hacked? It shut down New York City’s Wall Street.”

Stephen Boese, representing the Learning Disabilities Association of New York State, said the organizations’ members were “very concerned.”

“When someone has a learning disability, it’s their right to disclose that disability – not the right of a third party. There’s still a lot of stigma, a lot of discrimination.” He said that some children have committed suicide when their personal information got out “into the cybersphere.”

Boese said the group wrote a letter to State Education Commissioner John King – but received no response. “It’s been six weeks,” he said.

Department of Education's deputy chief academic officer Adina Lopatin said the data sharing does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.

When parents asked who will be responsible when “the inevitable” data breach takes place, she said the state would bear responsibility.

The inBloom privacy statement says the project “cannot guarantee the security of the information stored.” The inBloom project also does not take responsibility for any damage that could occur if the child’s personal information is illegally viewed.

Lopatin said the city DOE would be dropping its $80 million ARIS system, which currently stores student data and instructional resources, and that a new statewide Education Data Portal would add “functionality over time at a lower cost.”

“The state is using inBloom, which will create data structures according to a common set of standards,” Lopatin said. She said that a vendor would not be able to access that data unless the district or state has a contract with that vendor – a statement which drew laughs of derision from the crowd.

When asked by parents if the data could be used for anything other than educational purposes, she replied, “It would be possible to use it for other purposes but we have no current plans to do so.” She also confirmed that parents would not be able to “opt out” of the database.

Jelani Mashariki, a Brooklyn parent and City Council candidate, told Lopatin, “I know you’re just the messenger, so I want to make sure you deliver this message to your supervisors: We are not going to have this. This is disgusting. It’s a violation of personal space and human rights.”

Mashariki said that when his daughter’s after school program asked for permission to take her picture, he refused.  “This corporate- state partnership has to stop. We will fight back,” he said.

As parents shouted out negative comments, moderator Margaret Kelley, education liaison to the Brooklyn borough president, urged courtesy and warned, "If this gets out of hand, I'm going to have to adjourn this forum."

Leonie Haimson said that two bills concerning student data security have been introduced to the state Assembly and Senate. Bills A06059 and S04284 prohibit "the release of personally identifiable student information where parental consent is not provided."

Haimson said that concerned parents should contact their representatives, and the state and city Department of Education (DOE). The Class Size Matters website will follow the issue at www.classsizematters.org/ (click on "Privacy").

In a media conference following the town hall, Lopatin confirmed that News Corp’s Wireless/Amplify would be one of the vendors with access to student information.

Other states considering sharing students’ private data include Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.  

Louisiana Superintendent John White announced he was pulling his state’s student data out of inBloom last week, following protests by Louisiana parents and school board members about privacy.

April 30, 2013 - 6:00pm


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